Flora Roumpani

PhD Researcher in Spatial Analysis

Lima, Peru

Smart City

Flora Roumpani is a PhD student at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), a leading influence in the science of cities. She is an expert in visualisation and creates high-resolution 3D models of cities to understand how to improve their infrastructure.

Hidden Cities

Favelas, or unplanned towns, are governed largely by the people who live there. Houses are built as and when they’re needed and the communities there are incredibly tight-knit. However, the nature of how these towns develop mean that forward planning is rare and public facilities are often installed in an ad hoc and unstructured manner, sometimes creating new problems as they solve the existing ones.

Roumpani participated in the Remaplima project, led by the Development Planning Unit in UCL which uses her research in 3D technologies to help residents understand their environment better.

Taking Mobile Mapping to new heights

Bird's Eye View

A favela is constantly shifting and growing, making traditional maps out-of-date almost as soon as they’re finished. Equally, there’s no guarantee the people who want to improve the community will have an education in architecture or town planning. The team needed to map it in a way the people living there would understand. Her solution used the latest technology in online 3D mapping to meet all these goals at once but required an extremely powerful computing solution to achieve it.

On The Go

The team had drones fly over the favela and take thousands of images from a variety of angles, allowing the height of different objects to be calculated. These images were sent to her laptop in real-time, which Roumpani then turned into highly accurate 3D renders of the city and develop 3D models of roads and buildings suitable for analysis, using a laptop with a powerful graphics card. The process, which had taken days on older computers, now takes a little under an hour.

HOW FLORA CREATED THE IMPOSSIBLE

Asking the right questions

How did you end up researching cities?

I actually studied architecture but I shifted from designing buildings to analysing data about cities.

That’s quite a jump. Why did you make the change?

I liked the appeal of seeing what’s actually under the surface and appreciating the complexity of the cities we’re in. There’s a hidden city that exists, which we don’t really understand, but it is there.

“We fly drones and get real-time imagery of the whole area”

Flora Roumpani

And that led you to work with the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis?

Yes, I’m working at CASA. I’m a PhD student working on modelling a smart city.

What’s the aim of your team’s research?

We’re helping residents in a favela on the outskirts of Peru’s capital, Lima, understand their environment better. We want to help them plan and design their city and build structures that will be beneficial for the whole community.

What is a favela and why was it the focus of your work?

A favela is simply an unplanned city. The lack of planning means things are typically built as and when people need them. We’re trying to use our mapping to show how they can expand their city better. For example, where best to place schools.

How are the 3D models you analyse created?

We send drones to fly over the study area and capture aerial imagery of the region. Then we process the imagery and turn it into a 3D model of the area.

How is that better than traditional mapping?

Firstly, you get an immediate output of the whole process. We fly the drones and in real time you get imagery of the whole area, which you can turn into a 3D render within an hour. Before you’d need days to get that sort of output. Now you can do it in a matter of hours.

This is quite new technology. What’s the future for it?

We’re going to get smaller and faster drones along with faster ways of getting information/data. It’ll mean higher resolution images with less hours of work.

Why is it important to have a laptop out in the field with you?

Portability is really important. When you’re out in the field you need your tools with you. It’s also important to have a lot of power because we need to process and render 3D images on the spot. That’s something that’s really helpful to have.